May 2013

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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace


The European Community is like America under the Articles of Confederation: too loosely knit, with the states entitled to hold themselves out, and an insufficient commitment to one another. A confederation cannot be for the good times only, and the euro zone will certainly founder if the countries are unwilling to rescue one another by any means necessary. It was always an intellectual's gray concept of a quasi-nation, and lacked the stability and loyalty of a truly cohesive political framework.

Boston bombing

We live in a specially fucked up world. Reflect that during World War II there were no Nazis or native sympathizers setting bombs in this country (two submarines of saboteurs sent by Hitler failed, in part because the people he chose were too soft, too Americanized, to carry out their missions). The bombing meme, which is probably closely related to the mass shooting meme, is one of a cold and ultimate narcissim and overwhelming arrogance. I think we were better socialized fifty years ago to resist it.

On a side note, "iconic" seems to be the meme of the day in the reporting, as in the Boston marathon, Patriot's Day, the John F. Kennedy library are "iconic" and therefore targets.

The gun bill

The failure of a quite limited and reasonable gun law in the Senate, 54-46, leaves me angry but not surprised. A couple of observations:

The Murder Lobby is not a mass movement; most NRA members actually seem to favor increased background checks. It is billionaire blackmail of craven politicians, oligarchy exercising itself, not simply to protect mines or banks, but to make sure there are endless powerful weapons, extended magazines and every other killing tool in the hands of as many Americans as possible. Even dead children at Newtown can't change that. The threat of the Murder Lobby represents a massive dysfunction, a hole in the heart of America.

Also, it wasn't really a defeat, in the sense that 54 senators voted for it, a pretty good margin. The 60 vote rule, which allows a tyranny of the minority, needs to go. I know the fear is one day the shoe will be on the other foot, but think we should take our chances.

The President's visible anger about it was also welcome. He has often seemed too cerebral, too careful and quiet. Somebody has got to say plainly that some senators betrayed their own constituents today, to please or placate some billionaires.

Quote of the month

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa: "Criminals do not submit to background checks now. They will not submit to expanded background checks."

Its not even a true statement, as background checks now are preventing many gun sales every year to felons and others. Morally,if you unpack it, this is the same type of statement as: "Police are not catching all murderers now, so there's no point in hiring more police." Its actually shockingly immoral, from a man who professes to be all about law and order but who, bought by the Murder Lobby, is taking time from his busy schedule to ensure that murderers will have access to weapons.

Black powder

While we're on the topic, the Boston bombs used black powder. The NRA defeated an initiative almost twenty years ago to put taggants in black powder to make their point of origin and sales history traceable after events just like this one.

The Boston bombers

This morning, one has been killed in a shoot out and the other is on the run, after killing an MIT security officer. When this story is over and the facts all come to light, let's take a look at what weapons the terrorists had, what extended clips or magazines they were carrying, and where they bought them all.

I only ever watch TV news during terrorist attacks, hurricanes and the night of presidential elections. I spent several hours this morning tuned into MSNBC that was apparently completely wasted, as nothing about the emerging narrative turned out to be true. There was endless speculation that the police had the surviving suspect cornered in Watertown, which got as specific as the kinds of things hostage negotiators would day to him, but when I tuned in an hour later, the story had reverted to him on the run location unknown. A report that there was a third suspect on an Amtrak train which had been stopped and surrounded by cops in Connecticut had also evaporated, and the latest was that there were only two. Watching TV people talk endlessly when they know little or nothing, with the result that they invent stories, is not a good investment of my time.

Also, some thoughts about law enforcment: most of the recent terrorist cases in New York and elsewhere seem to be prosecutions of menatlly unstable people who got reeled in by police sting operations--cases in which police provided dummy weapons, bombs, logistical support, etc. Meanwhile, these two very dangerous young men were apparently buying black powder and weapons unnoticed by anybody. I recognize the need, in the times in which we live, for vigilant cops, but perhaps they should spend more time looking for real terrorists, rather than inventing them.

Later--I haven't seen any coherent reporting on what guns they owned or where they got them. The original trope that they had a huge arsenal seems to have evaporated. The official story now is that they shot the MIT officer in order to get his weapon, but failed; the surviving brother apparently did not have a weapon in the boat where he was captured.

We do know they didn't have Massachusetts licenses for the guns they owned. This has led to a lot of inane chatter by the Second Amendment crowd, including Senator Grassley above, that disobedience of laws supports repeal: the same argument as if someone argued that we should repeal the law against murder, because people commit murders anyway. The important point here is that, when we learn the source of whatever guns they owned (they had at least one, that they used to shoot the MIT officer), it will be a weapon that was acquired via a gun show or online, in a context in which the back-ground checks that could have prevented the sale are not required. What it will not be: a gun they built in the basement, or was smuggled into the country in a barrel of baking powder.


Greek children are suffering from malnutrition so that the bondholders can be repaid. Once you've said that, is any other argument or explanation necessary? What kind of a system allows children to be hungry so that bondholders can get their money? The world seems ever simpler to me than it did when I started publishing the Spectacle. There are only two kinds of people, two philosophies, two kinds of political systems: those who agree with the following statement and those who don't: "The weak are meat the strong do eat."

Plus ca change

Banks are again (still?) making risky loans and mortgages and then bundling them into securities. Why not? --there were no consequences for doing it last time.

Campus rape

When I attended Columbia in 1974, everyone knew that rapes of female students were being covered up by campus security. Now its 2013, and colleges are still doing the same; public perceptions of security are more important than the reality, and women students are being sacrificed to achieve this goal. There are some heartbreaking stories, of women being persuaded not to report crimes, then watching their rapists shake the college president's hand and receive a diploma. I hope the media spotlight on this right now, driven by some very courageous young women, will cause some change.

Murder Lobby methodology

The NRA used to go out on the road loudly explaining why they were against taggants, for cop-killer bullets, etc. As despicable as their views were, they used to behave like participants in a democracy. This time around, they promised cooperation, released their own plan for schools, hinted they might not be against certain measures....then quietly bought and intimidated 46 votes in the Senate. We are reaching a level of oligarchy where people with money can simply control things behind the scenes; there is no longer any effective public pressure to explain themselves, any consequences if they don't.

NBA coming out

Yay for Jason Collins and yay for society. We have reached a point where after years of gradual change, every blue state heterosexual knows a gay person, or maybe quite a few. Someone else's sexual preference is suddenly, as it should be, a great big non-issue.

That leaves the bigots exposed, hanging out there, an interesting spectacle. Nor should we be naive about certain politicians who were loudly, cruelly bigoted as an opportunistic measure and are now opportunistically seeing the light. These people have no honesty, no compassion and no values and they haven't changed.